April 2nd

Geometric image from Nier: Automata

Wondering how to get started on games criticism? This week’s writing happened to feature some great overview articles that give readers an introduction to specific topics, as well as deeper dives on particular games.

Erode symbols

It’s a great time for writing on games and architecture right now, and this week has two treasures in that field.

Consider a third school of thought. An application of game development that is defined basically as neither representation nor simulation. Game development eroding symbols, eliminating context, channeling the nether.

Feel truly alive

A number of pieces this week are overviews of existing work on a topic, or of useful terms for making sense of something. These two concern what it feels like to play games.

Games can bring forth many kinds of emotions, but there are a few that move beyond the cheap thrills, titillation, and all flash but no substance— there are a few that might speak to (or at least have the ambition to speak to) the core of what it means to be alive. Even if a game doesn’t necessarily bring us something useful per se, it might be able to speak on a level that calls out to our humanity and make us feel truly alive.

From voyeuristic to sympathetic

Another survey article is found in this section, this time on empathy, followed by a single concrete example of how empathy in games might work.

It’s a powerful way to design an empathy game. Without thinking, the player begins to relate to the phone’s owner, even if that experience is so far outside of their own as to be difficult to understand. Slowly, the player moves from voyeuristic to sympathetic, and it happens naturally, as the game progresses.

Listen to a different song

Community organization and management were looked at this week using quantitative data and investigative journalism.

There’s a variety to the games curation scene that is distinct, absent from other aspects of video games. Which is not to say that curation like this is about replacing the wall of noise triple-A produces; rather, it’s encouraging you to listen to a different song once in a while.

Hard shadows

Technical investigations into games are a common part of the writing scene, but it’s rare for them to be a form of criticism in themselves.

[W]e sacrificed entire levels, rooms, and hallways, to feed the shadows and our notions of high craft and perceived production value. But let’s not stop there! What if you sacrificed an entire game just to render cool-looking hard shadows?

Serve a purpose

Trans representation in Mass Effect: Andromeda has been a source of irritation for many, who found it hamhanded and shallow. These two pieces go a long way towards explaining the problems to anyone unfamiliar with the arguments at hand.

In a blog post discussing the creation and writing of Krem, Patrick Weekes notes: “A minor character like a shopkeeper would have no reason to explain that she is trans […] the character had to serve a purpose beyond ‘being there to be a genderqueer person.'” It is a shame this sentiment wasn’t shared by the writers working on Andromeda. 

The other freedom

The representation and performance of resistance to powerful institutions was examined by three writers this week, taking up the topics of media fandom, religion, and counter-play.

The freedom game designers seem to want for me and the freedom I want to seize from them are radically different. One freedom concerns choice. […] The other freedom concerns autonomy. […] The first freedom requires a world built to accommodate it, a sumptuous palette of sanctioned choices; the second freedom depends upon a world it can defy.

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